Why Did Leonard Cohen Change The Future Lyrics From “Anal Sex” To “Careless Sex”?

Note: This is the second of two posts on the substitution of “Give me crack and careless sex” for the original lyrics, “Give me crack and anal sex,” in Leonard Cohen’s classic song, The Future. The first post can be found at Has Leonard Cohen Eliminated Anal Sex In The Future?.

The Fate Of Crack and Anal Sex In The 2008-2009 Word Tour

Throughout the current Leonard Cohen World Tour [at time of original posting: Feb 13, 2009], “Give me crack and careless sex” appears to have been routinely been used as the ninth line of “The Future” — as it was in this May 23, 2008 performance in Moncton, New Brunswick.

 

 

Now, I have not listened to every rendition of “The Future” during this tour so I cannot rule out instances in which the original lyrics or other variants were sung. From reviewing audience recordings and videos, however, I can affirm that “Give me crack and careless sex” was used in the following 2008 concerts: Moncton, Manchester, Kitchener, Dublin, Cardiff, Toronto, Amsterdam, Lisboa, Prague, Stockholm, Rotterdam, O2 London, Rome, and Oberhausen.

I have yet to find a recording of a Leonard Cohen concert performed in 2008 or 2009 with a different ninth line. While absence of proof is not proof of absence, I think it legitimate, given the available evidence, to hypothesize that replacing “Give me crack and anal sex” with “Give me crack and careless sex” has been standard procedure during this tour.

Audience reports of these concerts contain many references to the lyrics being changed from “Give me crack and anal sex” to “Give me crack and careless sex.” Further, I find no references to the use of “Give me crack and anal sex.”1

Of the dozen or so fans I contacted, two believed, with varying degrees of certainty, that they attended 2008-2009 concerts at which the original lyrics were sung. In one of these cases, a video of “The Future” from the concert in question is available, which reveals that, recall of the event notwithstanding, the words sung were actually “Give me crack and careless sex.”

The Outliers

Give me crack and casual sex

I found two references to “Give me crack and casual sex” being used.

  • One is at the June 17, 2008 Manchester show, but there is a YouTube video of that song’s performance on that night with the words, “Give me crack and careless sex.”
  • The second refers to the concert at the Nice Jazz Festival.  I can find no recording of the Nice show.

Give me crack and abnormal sex

I also discovered a Facebook comment claiming

… at the concert I went to he [Cohen] changed ‘give me crack and @n*l sex’ to ‘give me crack and abnormal sex’. I thought it was weird for a poet to change his words, especially when the new version was awkward

Well, I wasn’t there, but I would agree that both “@n*l sex”  and “abnormal sex” seem weird.

Is The Choice Of Versions Limited To “Anal Vs Banal”?

There exists among those who have commented on the change from the original lyrics of “The Future” a near unanimity that the revision has been, directly or indirectly, based on censorship. And, that is a reasonable idea.

Indeed, censorship seems the most straightforward explanation for the pattern of determining which lyrics were sung in the period when the song was first introduced. On TV shows (including Letterman), official videos, and radio broadcasts, the more benign “Give me crack and careless sex” prevailed while in concerts before 2008, the original line was used. That fits the reality of the cultural environment then, including the employment of censors on TV networks.

Consequently, I can imagine, for example, Leonard Cohen deciding, with or without counsel from management, that the benefits of using “Give me crack and anal sex” weren’t worth the risk. I can also fashion a plausible story about the use of “Give me crack and careless sex” being a decision reached during rehearsal that has been perpetuated in the ongoing concert series. Or I can concoct a chain of events in which the choice is made as the result of a special plea by someone important to Leonard Cohen. Heck, I might even swallow the idea that a concert management firm, the record company, or some other business partner leaned on Leonard to change the original lyrics.

Still, it’s difficult to understand the choice of lyrics being based on censorship in 2008 when Leonard Cohen was routinely singing “Give me crack and anal sex” in concerts 15 years ago, especially since more recently there has been a proliferation of bands and singers producing much raunchier material. It seems unlikely that Leonard Cohen is more vulnerable to censorship than, for example, the legions of hip-hop, post-punk, and latter day heavy metal musicians.

Further, Leonard’s longstanding habits of attention to detail, extensive rehearsal, and careful, repeated editing make it equally difficult to buy into the idea that the choice of which version of “The Future” to sing was made cavalierly.

Besides, I have an alternative theory (quelle surprise, eh?).

The standard reading of “Give me crack and anal sex” casts crack and anal sex as self-destructive, potentially deadly indulgences associated with a denial of personal responsibility for life, whether ones own or the life of someone else. The lust for immediate pleasure then supersedes a more thoughtful course consistent with personable integrity and dignity.

The simple truth is that “careless sex,” regardless of the reasons that terminology was originally developed as an alternative set of lyrics, more accurately conveys the biological, psychological, and philosophical elements of that premise than does “anal sex.”

In short, perhaps Leonard Cohen shifted those lyrics for the 2008-2009 tours not to make the song socially acceptable but because it’s now become clear that anal sex is not itself inevitably decadent or destructive, but careless sex is. Consider these contemporaneous posters (for more impressive images, Google “careless sex”).

So, is Leonard Cohen’s use of “Give me crack and careless sex” rather than “Give me crack and anal sex” during The 2008-2009 World Tour concerts an artifact of 1990s mores and censorship or is it due to the conviction that “careless sex more accurately conveys the biological, psychological, and philosophical elements of [the song’s] premise than does ‘anal sex?'”

I dunno. But, it seems a reasonable possibility.

Update – Oct 14, 2010: “Give me crack and anal sex” – Leonard Cohen’s Original The Future Lyrics Appear In 2010 Moscow, Stuttgart, & Caen Shows

Leonard Cohen Performs Original Lyrics To The Future At Three 2010 Shows

Listen to Leonard Cohen’s performance of “The Future” at the October 7, 2010 Moscow concert. Just past the 30 second mark Leonard Cohen growls the original lyrics, “Give me crack and anal sex,” rather than the line that has been used throughout the World Tour, “Give me crack and careless sex.”

Leonard Cohen – The Future
Moscow: Oct 7, 2010
Video by cheburek1960

 

Now, as to why Leonard Cohen returned to the original lyrics for the Moscow concert – I’m gonna have to get back to you on that.

Addendum (13 October 2010): As is pointed out in the comments, TGuy2 had the following observation on the shift back to the original lyrics of “The Future” within Part 4 of an eyewitness account of the Moscow Concert posted at LeonardCohenForum on Oct 10, 2010:

The Future – The sex is back to “Anal” (pun intended – apologies) and not merely “Careless” – subtle commentary by LC as to the very late start? Moscow is a hardened city and can take it? Indulge me.

It turns out that the original lyrics of “The Future” were used in at least two concerts prior to the Moscow show.

A review of an October 1, 2010 Stuttgart Concert bootleg demonstrates that the original lyrics were sung at that performance.

And Jan Vail, who attended the September 15, 2010 Caen show, has informed me that “Give me crack and anal sex” were the lyrics used there as well (“We definitely had anal sex in Caen, Allan, and I sent an immediate text through to Gill Keys of Regular Dose…she replied with ‘not in public I hope.’“). I have not yet found a bootleg or video of “The Future” from that concert.

I have also ascertained that the adapted lyrics, i.e., “Give me crack and careless sex,” were used at the following 2010 concerts:

  • Sligo: August 1, 2010
  • Oslo: August 6, 2010
  • Ghent: August 20, 21, 22, 2020
  • Florence: September 1, 2020
  • Wiesbaden: September 3, 2010
  • Grenoble: September 17, 2010
  • Strasbourg: September 19, 2010
  • Hannover: September 27, 2010
  • Dortmund: September 29, 2010
  • Warsaw: October 10, 2010

 

I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted Feb 13, 2009 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com (with updates as noted).

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  1. Of course, unless one is aware that the revised lyrics of “The Future” have been commonly used, hearing the original lyrics sung may not strike many bloggers or reporters as worthy of comment. []
  2. No relation to DrHGuy, mutual appreciation of puns and prolixity in the service of journalism notwithstanding []

One thought on “Why Did Leonard Cohen Change The Future Lyrics From “Anal Sex” To “Careless Sex”?

  1. I am always amazed at all the commentary on various sites trying to ascertain what Leonard Cohen’s lyrics meant, or why he changed them. Why didn’t someone just ask him when he was alive? 😉

    But, since I’m here, he likely changed the word from “anal” to “careless” to be politically-correct because, let’s face it, anal sex is perfectly acceptable to a lot of people — gay or straight alike. That is, there are some who of anal sex as “evil” or “sinful” and it may even be interpreted that way when taken into context with the overall tone of the song, but I think Cohen was merely providing two images of things (crack and anal sex) that can be both pleasurable, yet potentially harmful. Using either the words “careless” or “casual” instead, however, makes that point more clear — and perhaps less offensive to some people. After all, just about everyone has experienced some casual or careless sex in their lives (though not necessarily anal).

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